Elva Coor, wife of former ASU president, remembered as 'a catalyst for enduring change'


Elva and Lattie Coor smile at each other

Elva and Lattie Coor — who was president of ASU from 1990–2002 — worked to greatly expand the university's engagement with its surrounding communities. The community enrichment programs connected community members so they can better understand ASU and its students’ needs. Under Elva’s leadership, the programs drew numerous potential donors into the leadership fundraising campaign, many of whom became significant donors to ASU. Courtesy photo

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Elva (Wingfield) Coor was passionate about the community, politics and outdoor activities.

She grew up on a ranch in Camp Verde, Arizona, where she raised steers, rode horses, milked cows and learned the importance of hard work and working together to get things done. 

Those values guided her while working for U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater in Washington, D.C., while owning and operating several communications businesses, and while participating in numerous civic engagements. 

Coor, 85, died on July 2 and will be remembered for her many contributions to the community and to Arizona State University.  

“Elva Coor was a warm, wise and generous business and community leader who saw need and took action to become a catalyst for enduring change at ASU and in our state,” ASU President Michael M. Crow said. 

“She was an inspiring friend and mentor, personally and professionally, to Sybil and me, and we will carry her memory forward with great pride and affection. We send our deepest sympathies to Lattie and the Coor family.”

In the mid-1950s, Coor studied at Arizona State College at Flagstaff (now Northern Arizona University), where she initially met Lattie Coor Jr., the man whom she would later marry in 1994. She then worked to expand ASU’s community programs with Lattie, who served as ASU’s 15th president from 1990 to 2002.

She established the ASU President’s Community Enrichment ProgramsNow called Presidential Engagement Programs to “build a stronger bridge between the community leadership and ASU,” Coor said in an Arizona Republic story in 1999 following the first year of programming.  

The community enrichment programs, which have grown over the years, introduce community members to dean’s councils and other engagement opportunities so they can better understand ASU and its students’ needs. Under Elva’s leadership, the programs drew numerous potential donors into the leadership fundraising campaign, many of whom became significant donors to ASU.  

“Elva and Lattie made great strides in fundraising and outreach for Arizona State University. Their contributions to ASU will be remembered for years to come,” ASU Foundation CEO Gretchen Buhlig said. “Thanks to Elva’s tireless efforts and the community programs she started, ASU as a whole is more engaged in the community it serves.”  

Coor and her husband have been longtime donors to ASU, providing private support to several units such as Barrett, The Honors College; Arizona PBS; Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions; ASU Library; and the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, among others. 

Remembering a legacy

Earlier this summer, university officials and friends of Lattie and Elva Coor shared their memories of the couple at a launch event for Lattie’s book, “Growing Up in Arizona.” Read more

In 2011, the School of Public Affairs announced the opening of the Coor Leadership Collection in coordination with the Lattie and Elva Coor Presidential Chair. The collection includes several hundred seminal books on public leadership. The Lattie and Elva Coor Presidential Chair is an endowment awarded to the director of the School of Public Affairs to advance the scholarship and practice of leadership and ethics across ASU.

The Coors also established a scholarship to be awarded to an honors student in memory of Lattie’s parents, Lattie and Elnora Coor. They also established an endowment that provides support for graduate students involved in the Building Great Communities Fellowship. 

Elva Coor was described as an "optimizer" for her strength in managing projects and shaping their success. She was instrumental in forming SpeakOut Arizona to help citizens become involved in community action. Coor co-chaired the Arizona committee for Goldwater’s presidential campaign and organized campaigns to increase voter turnout for other local, state and federal candidates.

She served on several committees and volunteered for a handful of nonprofit organizations over the years, including ASU Women and Philanthropy, Phoenix Art Museum, the Central Arizona Chapter of the Arizona Historical Society, Charter 100, and the Arizona Chapter of Women Business Owners. 

She has been recognized numerous times for her community contributions and was named the 67th Woman of the Year by Valley Leadership in 2016, the same year Crow was named Man of the Year. Lattie and Elva received the ASU MLK Jr. Community Servant Leadership Award in 2017. In 2002, Lattie and Elva were awarded the Fabulous Phoenician Award for their philanthropic and community contributions. 

She led the charge to relocate former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s adobe home from Paradise Valley to Papago Park in Tempe to avoid demolition. O’Connor and Coor had been friends since the late 1950s. 

When Coor wasn’t volunteering, working or spending time with her children, she could often be found outdoors. It was a mutual love of hiking, and later biking, that brought her and Lattie together. 

“In spite of my urban life, I’m still an outdoor girl. I have to ride a horse or go hiking at least once a week, or I feel empty,” Coor told the Arizona Republic in 1994. 

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